Zirconium occurs naturally as zircon (ZrSiO4), baddeleyite (ZrO2), and some 30 other mineral species. Naturally occurring zirconium contains five isotope (the commonest being 90Zr, 51.46%); fifteen other isotopes are known to exist. Zirconium is extracted by reducing zirconium (IV) chloride with magnesium (the Kroll process).
It is chemically similar to titanium, and is corrosion-resistant at ordinary temperatures, owing to an inert oxide layer, but reactive at high temperatures.
Zirconium is used in photographic flash bulbs, to clad uranium fuel elements in nuclear reactors, and to make surgical implants, including tooth implants. The refractory oxide is used for ceramics, and other zirconium compounds are used in phramaceuticals and as mordants in dyeing.
Extraterrestrial sourcesZirconium is found in abundance in S stars, and has been identified in the Sun and meteorites. Analysis of lunar rock samples obtained during the various Apollo missions to the Moon show a surprisingly high zirconium oxide content, compared with terrestrial rocks.
Related category INORGANIC CHEMISTRY
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